Girlfriends Half Marathon brings friends together

Annual race draws 3,000 runners to Vancouver

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter



If you go

■ What: Girlfriends Half Marathon, 13.1-mile run/walk.

■ When: 9 a.m. Sunday.

■ Where: Race starts and finishes at 1011 Broadway in downtown Vancouver.

■ Registration: Registration open until 7 p.m. Saturday at Northwest Personal Training, 1011 Broadway or call (360) 574-7292. Fee is $80. About 200 spaces remained as of Friday.

When Robin Wild reaches the finish line of Sunday's Girlfriends Half Marathon, it will be the 11th time in three years she has completed a 13.1-mile race.

The Vancouver woman probably will walk a lot of this course, resting muscles still sore from the Long Beach Half Marathon, a popular Southern California race that she completed on Oct. 7. But Wild isn't concerned about the time on the clock when she finishes. She is all about the time she'll spend with a group of friends who have shared in her transformation from couch potato to athlete.

Cheryl Wandro and Shelly Atwell are two of those friends. Wandro of Camas and Atwell of Vancouver also completed the Long Beach Half Marathon last weekend, and will be on course for another 13.1-mile race this Sunday.

The three women are practically neighbors, but they say they wouldn't be the fast friends they are today if not for The free self-improvement website has millions of users worldwide who sign on for help reaching elusive fitness goals.

On Sunday, 11 friends who keep track of one another on, will be among some 3,000 women running and walking the Girlfriends Half Marathon.

Widowed in 2001, Wild said she had put on most of her extra weight after the death of her husband, Lincoln.

"SparkPeople got me back into a frame of mind where I thought, 'If I can't take care of me, I can't take care of anybody else,' " Wild said.

In 2008, Wild weighed 236 pounds. Now the 52-year-old weighs 130 and is fit enough that she considers a 16-mile hike in Portland's Forest Park a joy even on one of the hottest days of the year.

"I might not look like an athlete," Wild said, "but I can do these things."

Atwell, too, considers herself an athlete. On Sunday, the 41-year-old plans to join Wild and Wandro as certified members of the online community by completing two half-marathons in eight days.

Two years ago Atwell was content to relax on the couch. When her son Derek joined the Air Force in January 2011, he encouraged his mother to try running. Her first race was the Shamrock 5K in Portland that March, which she and Derek both entered.

This June, Atwell finished her first full marathon, running all 26.2 miles of the Vancouver USA Marathon. Sunday's Girlfriends Half Marathon will be her sixth 13-mile race.

Atwell said she has lost about 30 pounds, but the more significant improvement is that "I'm not as hesitant to get out and try different things."

For example, the old Atwell never would have considered entering a Muddy Buddy obstacle course race. She and Wandro did that this summer on Sauvie Island.

Wandro's addiction to running also is newfound. But the spark was different.

Wandro, 49, didn't start running to lose weight. She ran to make up for lost time. Because of a heart condition, in her early 20s Wandro was told not to try any exercise more strenuous than walking. It wasn't until three years ago that she was given the green light to speed up.

"That's why running is so cool to me," Wandro said. "Now you can't tell me to stop."